Heartland Institute attacks critics, still refuses to apologize for Unabomber billboard

Posted on May 21, 2012


Part six of a series.

When The Heartland Institute pulled down their billboard comparing actual climate realists to terrorist Ted Kaczynski, Heartland president Joseph Bast published a brief press release explaining why he ran the advertisement. At the end of the largely unrepentant release, Bast wrote “We do not apologize for running the ad.” Since then, Bast and James M. Taylor, managing editor of the Heartland periodical Energy and Climate News, have gone on the attack instead of apologizing for making a dishonest comparison.

However, the new attacks are just as dishonest, deceptive, and hypocritical as the original billboard and its accompanying essay were.

Bast’s “Dear John” letter

As a result of the Unabomber billboard, many of Heartland’s “global warming experts” have been ending their association with Heartland. Climate blogger BigCityLiberal has documented the departure of at least eight of the “experts,” and at least two speakers for this week’s Seventh International Climate Change Conference withdrew. In response to these departures, Bast wrote a “Dear John” letter to scholars who have chosen to leave. The letter contains several dishonest and hypocritical claims.

First, Bast asserts that Heartland relies on “research and reason, not rhetoric and emotion.” This assertion is incompatible with the last paragraph of Bast’s letter:

If you want to stand up for truth seeking and honesty, for taking an unpopular stand against prevailing wisdom, then you should be speaking up for me and The Heartland Institute, not abandoning us in this moment of need. I hope you reflect on what is really going on, reconsider your position, and let me know if you’ve changed your mind.

Contrary to Bast’s assertion, this is a direct appeal to emotion.

Second, Bast asserts that Heartland has “tried to stay ‘above the fray'” while “the political dialogue became more and more polarized and corrosive.” The problem with this assertion is that Bast and Taylor, along with others at Heartland, are part of the reason why the dialogue has become so “polarized and corrosive.” Taylor has misrepresented surveys and scientific papers. Bast has called for the banning of scientists from public discussions on climate disruption. All of these examples, plus many more that S&R and others have documented over the years, are incompatible with Bast’s assertion that Heartland has tried to take the moral high road.

Third, Bast claimed in the letter that, since the publication of internal Heartland documents accidentally leaked to Peter Gleick, “environmental extremists started to use tactics that had never been used before in the public policy arena.” One of the tactics Bast complains about is asking donors to stop funding The Heartland Institute. Petitions, letter writing campaigns, and telephone campaigns have been used by activists of all types to pressure donors and investors for decades, so claiming that this is a new tactic is patently absurd.

Bast further claims that Greenpeace demanded that employers of scientists who have worked with Heartland fire those scientists. This is a serious claim if true, but Bast provided no evidence to back it up. It is likely that Bast was referring to letters that Greenpeace wrote to universities inquiring about whether payments from The Heartland Institute constituted a conflict of interest as defined by the universities. Greenpeace also wrote letters to Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking whether the money Heartland sent to two government employees was in breach of government rules. None of these letters include any demand to fire anyone, and Greenpeace’s questions are entirely reasonable given government and academic rules about possible conflicts of interest.

And fourth, Bast again claimed that the Unabomber billboard was “factual,” a claim that is not supported by Kaczynski’s manifesto. For a prior post in this series, S&R searched through the Unabomber’s manifesto and found

exactly two examples [of mentions of the phrase “greenhouse effect”]- one of which is a general statement, the other of which asks (without providing an answer) what the impact of the greenhouse effect will be. There are no uses of “climate change,” “global warming,” or “carbon” either. In fact, the word “climate” is used exactly once, in reference to having the right kind of clothing necessary for a given climate.

Bast is understandably upset that people he considered allies are deserting him and The Heartland Institute. But given most scientists care a great deal about facts and integrity, it’s not surprising that scientists are asking that their names no longer be associated with Heartland.

James M. Taylor’s Forbes blog

At the same time that Bast published his “Dear John” letter, James M. Taylor published another defense of The Heartland Institute at his Forbes blog. In it, Taylor admits that he would have argued against the Unabomber billboard had he been given the opportunity (neither he nor any of The Heartland Institute’s board members were aware of the billboard before it went live on May 3rd). But Taylor also makes a number of deceptive claims in his subsequent defense of The Heartland Institute.

Taylor first alleges that Joe Romm compared “skeptics as a whole and [Taylor] personally to Holocaust deniers” in an article that Romm wrote at ThinkProgress. Taylor goes on to claim that “The media gave Romm a pass on that comment.” But what Romm actually wrote doesn’t support Taylor’s claim. Romm wrote

Would PBS go so far as to give air time to an even more extreme kind of disinformer, a Holocaust denier? [emphasis added]

Romm is clearly saying that Taylor and his associates at Heartland misinform people on the topic of climate disruption, but that they are not as bad as Holocaust deniers.

Taylor then alleges that Brad Johnson, then a writer for ThinkProgress Green, “attempted to link global warming skeptics to a psychotic spree killer [Anders Breivik],” again claiming that the media gave Johnson a “pass.” As with the prior example, Taylor fails to mention critical points, like the fact that Johnson quoted extensively from Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto where Breivik attacks environmentalists as being “eco-Marxists” and writes that addressing climate disruption is a “Marxist agenda,” among other things. In other words, Johnson supports his claims with deep documentary evidence, while Bast’s allegations are unsupported and have been shown to be incorrect with respect to climate disruption.

Taylor also quotes from an interview of scientist James Hansen in The Guardian, but not only does Taylor not link to the source (S&R found it by Googling the quote), the quote is taken out of context. The entire quote is reproduced below – italicized portions are what Taylor quoted:

In Hansen’s view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. “This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” he said. “On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.”

Two things become clear when the full quote is available in context. First, Hansen was saying that humanity can’t compromise on dealing with climate disruption. Second, Taylor’s quote was taken out of context and as such it misrepresents what Hansen actually said.

In contrast to Bast’s letter, however, Taylor’s comments on Kaczynski are merely misleading instead of dishonest. Taylor wrote that “Kaczynski targeted and killed people who worked against his vision of environmental extremism,” a point that is technically true but also a logical fallacy. Not all environmental extremists are motivated by concern over human-driven climate disruption.

Taylor’s accuses the media of giving Romm, Johnson, and Hansen all a “pass” because the media is in bed with “global warming alarmists.” But there’s an alternative explanation: the media investigated Taylor’s claims and objectively found that his claims were unreasonable and/or deceptive.

It’s not a surprise that Bast and The Heartland Institute are unwilling to apologize for comparing climate realists to “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” If Bast apologized for his dishonest Unabomber comparison, he would also have to admit that he was wrong when he first compared Kaczynski to Al Gore in 2006. If Bast apologized, he would also have to apologize for the many dishonest, deceptive, and hypocritical allegations he made the “Billboards” essay.

Heartland wrote the following in reference to “global warming alarmists” in the “Billboards” essay:

Poor judgement… believing the ends justify the means… desperation. Now do you see why we really shouldn’t be surprised to learn that… famous criminals believe in global warming?

Heartland’s ongoing dishonest, deceptive, and hypocritical attacks on their critics make it clear that this statement applies more to The Heartland Institute than it does to Heartland’s critics.

Ed. Note: Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, allow me to point out that I am on the record as disapproving of Nazi references no matter who they’re directed at:

Calling someone irrational, illogical, ignorant, wrong, intentionally blind, or a liar is not in the same category as calling them a war criminal or guilty of genocide. You can even mock or insult someone without making totally unreasonable and emotionally loaded comparisons that make your opponent into your enemy. You’ll not hear me make such comparisons. [emphasis original]

Image credits: The Heartland Institute